Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin have ordered their security chiefs to find a way to remove Edward Snowden from a Moscow airport as he applies for asylum in Russia.
An immigration source said a British WikiLeaks activist who is travelling with Snowden handed his application to a Russian consulate in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Sunday night.
Mr Snowden, a former US National Security Agency contractor, has been on the run since leaking information about the US government’s secret surveillance programme Prism to The Guardian and The Washington Post in early June.
He initially fled from Hawaii to Hong Kong, but was allowed to leave the country after what Hong Kong officials claim was a clerical error on the part of the US government.
The US has annulled his passport, and Ecuador, where he had hoped to get asylum, has been coy over offering him shelter.
Russia has rejected US calls to hand over Snowden, saying that because he remains in the airport transit zone he has not officially crossed the Russian border.
Therefore, they claim, they are powerless to act.
Both Mr Putin and Mr Obama have now ordered the heads of their security agencies, the FBI and FSB, to find a solution to the impasse, according to the head of Russia’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev.
Speaking to the state television channel Rossiya 24, he said: “Of course (Putin and Obama) don’t have a solution that would work for both sides, so they have ordered the FSB director (Alexander) Bortnikov and FBI director Robert Mueller to keep in constant contact and find solutions.”
Mr Putin told a news conference that “we should let professionals decide”, and said Russia “never hands over anybody anywhere”.
He added: “Snowden is free to go but if he decides to stay, he has to stop his work directed to hurt our American partners. I know that this kind of statement sounds strange from me.”
It comes after the EU confronted the US over allegations it bugged offices in Brussels and America.